The crocuses and daffodils bloom in spite of the distant war. The yard signs bloom because of it.
"Another Family Supporting President Bush and Our Troops," reads the star-spangled cardboard sign that Fay and Craig Woodburn placed on their broad lawn in Ellicott City as soon as the war started. Their son Chad, 40, got it from Texas, via the Internet.
Fay Woodburn, leaning on her rake, compares Saddam Hussein to Hitler and is convinced of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda. But her sign is out there mostly for the troops and their families.
"No matter what happens, we want our boys home safe."
In the neighborhoods that surround the nation's capital, public expressions about the war are everywhere, from yellow ribbons tied around trees to the "Support Our Troops" slogan students painted on a rock outside West Potomac High School to the challenge "Blow Your Horn if Genocide is Ever Moral" emblazoned by a graffiti artist upon a Dulles Greenway overpass.
But the yard signs are a genre unto themselves.
Phyllis Maringer, a Silver Spring artist, speaks of the exhilaration and release she felt that Sunday morning before the war when she decided to make a statement in her own yard.
"I felt like I couldn't be silent," she said. So she hung a handmade banner on her fence that runs along busy Dale Drive. In foot-tall block letters, it reads, "PEACE."
Maringer said she believes the yard signs particularly in this region, as opposed to her native Midwest, reflect an awareness that local decisions affect the entire world. To neighbors, they serve as a constant reminder: "We are part of a bigger picture."
For now, at least, most of them call for peace.
Silver Spring doctoral student Virginia Murphy decided to get her "War Is Not the Answer" yard sign the day U.S. troops entered Iraq. "Up to that point, we only had bumper stickers. We decided we needed something bigger."
Her neighbor Dick Marks, a retired Pan American Health Organization official, decided that now, more than ever, he needs a peace sign in his yard. "We've lost the argument for the moment. The war has broken out. But at least we can keep talking about it."
In Takoma Park, a bastion of liberal sentiment, there is a yard sign in front of the public library saying: "Takoma Park . . . A City for Peace."
There are streets in Takoma Park where every other bungalow sports a blue-and-white yard sign reading, "War Is Not the Answer."
The signs have become a staple of life in the community, available at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Co-op like organic apples and milk. Next to the stack of yard signs, a coffee can welcomes donations for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobbying group.
"We've distributed 15,000 and ordered another 5,000," said Kathy Guthrie of the committee's headquarters on Capitol Hill.
A Quaker group in Atlanta started putting up peace yard signs during the Christmas season. Then in February, the Washington office ordered its first batch. Since then, people from all over the country and world have ordered "War Is Not the Answer" yard signs and bumper stickers from the group's Web site.
The committee has two of the yard signs outside its Hill headquarters, which faces the Hart Senate Office Building. Sometimes, during the night, one of the signs disappears.
"I like to think it was someone who really wanted one when our offices were closed," Guthrie said.
Takoma Park also has its own locally produced white yard signs with simple black letters: "We Vote for Peace . . . No War on Iraq."
George Taylor, 63, a Presbyterian minister, is responsible for those. He had about 300 of them printed, and dozens of his neighbors display them, sometimes in addition to "War Is Not the Answer."
The yard at his own blue-and-yellow home has both signs. The front door and windows are papered with other signs and posters, brought home from recent peace marches by Taylor and his wife, Ellen, 50.
"Support Our Troops; Bring Them Home," one reads. "Stand Against War and Racism," says another.
Both of the Taylors have been arrested lately -- Ellen at a Code Pink: Women for Peace demonstration, George during a protest joined by two Nobel Peace Prize winners, who were also arrested. Some in his congregation continue to struggle with the rightness or wrongness of the war. A few have grandchildren in the Persian Gulf, he said. "It's hard for them to get beyond that place."
But he must speak his conscience and stake it out there amid the struggling grass, out among the crocuses and daffodils.
Staff writer Ian Shapira contributed to this report.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company